Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (Riyadh Cricket Association)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
  • SACF has lined up several programs to promote the sport in KSA
  • Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief

RIYADH: Cricket is a game that has an almost magical ability to unite South Asian expatriates in their second home Saudi Arabia.

On every weekend and whenever there is a time to play, mostly on public holidays, they gather at some grounds, parks and open spaces to play street cricket.

For decades, early-morning gatherings were the only way for the South Asian diaspora to play cricket.

Expatriates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had few entertainment options other than cricket in the Kingdom before social reforms in line with Saudi Vision 2030 were unveiled in 2016, so would play friendly matches.

For decades, cricket in Saudi Arabia was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country, with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom introducing a series of competitions and programs to encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs to promote the game among Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

With Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud as chairman of the federation, long-term plans have been put in place to ensure that Saudi Arabian national teams can compete with the world’s best in the future.

Arab News, in an exclusive interview, spoke to the diaspora from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who shared their memories and experiences of playing cricket in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Azimooddin Abdul Rahiman Karajagi, who is an ICC-certified curator and umpire, and head coach of the Riyadh Cricket Association, told Arab News: “I have seen cricket being played in this region for almost 25 years now. In the beginning there was very limited opportunity to play the game by expatriate communities from the South Asian countries, they would gather at some open space for a friendly match. Then club cricket started and now the SACF headed by Prince Saud is doing a lot for the development of cricket in the Kingdom, starting with the National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the history of Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “As result of the mega-competition a formidable Saudi national cricket team was formed and they went on to lift ACC Men’s Challenger Cup consecutively, last year and this year, taking the game to another level (and) now will play the Premier Cup to qualify for the Asia Cup.

“We, the cricket lovers in the Kingdom, congratulate the SACF for taking initiatives to develop the game; we are delighted to see that world-class cricketers are emerging from the Kingdom, and wish all the best to the Saudi team qualify not only to the Asia cup but also to the Cricket World Cup,” he said.

Arab News caught Syed Salman Hussain from Pakistan, who was busy in net practice at Mark Cricket Academy, which is affiliated to the RCA at its home ground in Al-Sulai Industrial Area, Al-Mashael District in Riyadh.

Hussain enjoys playing cricket whenever he has time off work, and hopes to play one day in the Saudi national cricket team.

On playing cricket in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, he said it is tougher here as the cricket kit is not fully available, and must be brought from his homeland. Moreover, to play on the grassless pitches in Riyadh is tough.

“Here the ground is full of stones and sand, as against green grassy playground in Bangladesh,” said Nojmul Hasan from Dhaka, blaming the sandy area beside a shopping mall’s parking lot for his team’s slow run buildup in a friendly match.

“There are no carefully manicured grass pitches for cricketers in this city carved out of the desert. In Riyadh, there is hardly any grass. But the good thing is, after the formation of the SACF, things are changing, we have heard that there is work in progress for turf wicket here, so that’s great news.”

Obaidullah Zaman from Afghanistan, who is working in Riyadh for several years and plays cricket with the Mark Cricket Academy in Al-Mashael District every Friday, is happy with the pace of change, saying: “We are really excited to see the development around cricket in Saudi Arabia with the federation planning to have professional cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as the diaspora to the game. I look forward to finding a place in the national team either here or in my Afghan team, so I come religiously to practice at my academy and be prepared to play the matches organized by the RCA.”

Mohamed Sauky, a Sri Lankan expat playing cricket in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are very passionate about cricket. My favorite cricketer is Angelo Mathews from Sri Lanka. One day I aspire to be like him and represent the national team, therefore, I participate in all the training sessions by the RCA and as a result I am the highest wicket taker so far this season. With the coaching facilities, practice sessions on the net and practice matches, we are enhancing our skill. Playing together, we the South Asian diaspora enjoy our diversity and share our experiences to help each other in enhancing the skill to become a better player.”

Kannan K. Gopi, an Indian who has lived here for decades and plays cricket, was selected in the Saudi national cricket team to play the 40 overs tournament, but could not join because of the age factor. He still joins the players in the practice sessions and also coaches new players aspiring to be professional cricketers making it to the national team.

Sharing old memories, Gopi said: “Earlier, expats formed some clubs to play the game, now things are progressing well. We are looking forward to our favorite sport taking a big leap in the Kingdom, with the SACF keen to introduce a series of programs and domestic leagues.”

Speaking to Arab News last year regarding the plans, Prince Saud said: “Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the region with the biggest number of teams and players. So there will be leagues on all levels. We have developed throughout our time in the federation great relationships with the International Cricket Council, the global governing body of cricket, and the Asian Cricket Council, the organization that promotes and develops the sport of cricket in Asia, as well as some successful international cricket boards and big cricketers globally.”

High-profile figures from the world of cricket have offered their expertise and backing for cricket in the Kingdom.

Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter, Indian pacer Irfan Pathan, and British cricketer Kevin Pietersen have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief to discuss cricket and share expertise on how to develop the game.


Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League

Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League
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Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League

Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League
  • A victorious end to this AFC Champions League-era was earned by the UAE’s Al-Ain after a 5-1 win over Yokohama Marinos at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium

DUBAI: Al-Ain are kings of Asia after a remarkable AFC Champions League campaign culminated in a 5-1 win over Yokohama Marinos in the second leg of the final on Saturday night.

Morocco phenomenon Soufiane Rahimi helped gain a richly deserved second continental crown for Hernan Crespo’s troops, sparking wild celebrations at a jubilant Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Garden City.

The Boss’ 6-3 aggregate finals triumph over Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos was enriched by consecutive knockout-stage eliminations of red-hot Saudi Arabian favorites Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and came with added poignancy as they go down in history as the first and last victors throughout 21 editions of this format ahead of next season’s sweeping changes for AFC Champions League Elite/AFC Champions League Two/AFC Challenge League.

Here, Arab News takes a look at the talking points for the Middle East’s competitors after this unforgettable — and unrepeatable — 2023-24 campaign:

Crespo and Rahimi make difference for unstoppable Al-Ain

Al-Ain’s curious campaign gained a fittingly glorious conclusion.

The Boss looked well off the pace domestically to a rampant Al-Wasl yet were the undisputed class of the continental field. That is, in part, attributable to the searing drive of Rahimi and Crespo’s charisma.

They swept through the group stage under the unpopular Alfred Schreuder, before their celebrated Argentine supremo orchestrated a tight victory versus Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and then two modern classics against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal.

A Marinos similarly prone to drama awaited in the decider. Al-Ain would only trail for 14 regulation minutes across the two legs, with a 2-1 away defeat being followed by a dominant 5-1 home victory.

There would be no repeat of the showpiece suffering caused by Douglas’ missed penalty in 2016 or Al-Ittihad’s inexorable 2005 second-leg display.

Crespo learned from the 2022 semifinal embarrassment inflicted upon him by Al-Hilal when in charge of Qatar’s Al-Duhail. His reintroduction of compatriot Matias Palacios — mystifyingly shunned by Schreuder — was influential.

Other heroes included Yahia Nader, Kaku, the ceaseless Mohammed Abbas and skipper Bandar Al-Ahbabi.

But the final words must go to Rahimi. The top scorer’s 13 goals were five more than anyone else, including three goals in two legs versus Al-Nassr and a first-leg hat-trick against Al-Hilal.

In the final’s second stanza, he leveled the tie on eight minutes, won the penalty for Kaku, which put them back ahead, and a supremely intelligent arching run kept him onside before being felled by goalkeeper William Popp for the red card. There was even time to link back up with gregarious Togo hit man Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba, who raised the roof via a late brace despite being continually ignored by Crespo.

In a sign of what awaits, however, links to a Saudi Arabian summer move will not abate.

Saudi Arabia’s time should come again

Shock and disappointment are the prevailing emotions for Saudi Arabia’s heavyweights as they look back on a 2023-24 campaign derailed by neighbors Al-Ain.

A quarterfinal double-header for the ages witnessed Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr eliminated on penalties, with a Rahimi-inspired Al-Ain then inflicting more pain on Al-Hilal in the subsequent round. Such early exits were far from the commentariat’s minds when Roshn Saudi League’s revolutionary summer 2023 spending spree was conducted.

There are multiple reasonable to believe, however, that a seventh AFC Champions League trophy will be won by a club from the Kingdom in a year’s time.

The AFC’s decision to scrap their own foreign quota from 2024-25 should exponentially benefit Saudi clubs.

This season’s limit to six foreign players — of whom one must be Asian-qualified — was two more than Saudi clubs are permitted domestically, or three if they did not possess an Asian foreigner. Hence Nassr’s panicked January acquisition of little-used Australia left-back Aziz Behich.

In comparison, only five open-age foreigners were allowed in this season’s ADNOC Pro League of the UAE and Qatar’s Expo Stars League.

The rule unduly disrupted the chemistry within Saudi squads, leading to consequential selection calls such as esteemed Senegal center-back Kalidou Koulibaly sitting out Al-Hilal’s last-four decider with Al-Ain.

There is also an undeniable home-soil advantage baked into the 2024-25 and 2025-26 Elite editions with the quarterfinals, semifinals and final being played in one-leg ties within the Kingdom.

Roshn Saudi League clubs can also look forward to another ambitious summer recruitment spree to further bolster already fearsome rosters. Jeddah giants Al-Ahli’s return to Asia’s premier club competition for the first time since 2021 will see the likes of Franck Kessie and Riyad Mahrez compete for glory.

In time, 2023-24 may just be looked upon as an unwelcome blip for Saudi Arabia’s strongest.

More middling Qatar performances

Another AFC Champions League passed by with no telling impact from Qatari clubs, despite an abundance of star quality and the national team’s second successive Asian Cup success this winter.

It is now 13 years and counting since Al-Sadd defeated South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the final. This is also the nation’s last showpiece appearance.

This season, Al-Arabi and Al-Wakrah exited in the play-offs to unfancied Uzbekistani opposition. It got little better in the competition proper, with Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail failing to make the knockouts.

It feels like a window of opportunity in the AFC Champions League has permanently closed for Qatar, without reward.

Focus on COVID-19 and the World Cup 2022 has shifted to Saudi Arabia’s AFC Champions League Elite “Final Stage” hosting rights for 2024-26, plus lengthy run-ups to the 2027 Asian Cup and World Cup 2034.

Shifting balance?

Change to the direction of travel from east to west within Asian football was notable, throughout 2023-24.

The question, now, is whether this is permanent.

Western supremacy seemed pre-determined in 2023/24, from the imposing strength of Saudi Arabia’s clubs to Al-Ain appearing as the only opponent with a realistic retort. It had, resolutely, not been this way for much of the recent past.

Al-Hilal (2019, 2021) and Al-Sadd (2011) were the only western-zone teams to prevail from 2006 to 2022.

With the financial might of the Chinese Super League continuing to emphatically wane and K League 1 and J1 League outfits remaining exporters of outstanding talent rather than importers, AFC Champions League Elite may have a drastically different roll of honor.


Jrue Holiday’s finishing flurry helps Celtics beat Pacers 114-111 for 3-0 lead in East finals

Jrue Holiday’s finishing flurry helps Celtics beat Pacers 114-111 for 3-0 lead in East finals
Updated 26 May 2024
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Jrue Holiday’s finishing flurry helps Celtics beat Pacers 114-111 for 3-0 lead in East finals

Jrue Holiday’s finishing flurry helps Celtics beat Pacers 114-111 for 3-0 lead in East finals
  • Boston can clinch their second NBA Finals trip in three seasons with a Game 4 win Monday in Indianapolis
  • Holiday played despite being listed as questionable with an illness unrelated to COVID-19 and missing the morning shootaround

INDIANAPOLIS: Jrue Holiday overcame an illness to convert the go-ahead three-point play with 38 seconds left, then make the game-saving steal to help the Boston Celtics rally from an 18-point deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers 114-111 on Saturday night for a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston can clinch their second NBA Finals trip in three seasons with a Game 4 win Monday in Indianapolis.

Jayson Tatum matched his playoff career high with 36 points and had 10 rebounds and eight assists. Jaylen Brown added 24 points and Al Horford had 23 points and seven 3-pointers as the Celtics won their sixth straight playoff game and stayed unbeaten on the road this postseason.

Holiday played despite being listed as questionable with an illness unrelated to COVID-19 and missing the morning shootaround.

“For him to come out here and put it all on the line for us and come up with a big play to win the game, we’ve got a hell of a team,” Tatum said in his postgame TV interview.

Andrew Nembhard led the Pacers with a career-high 30 points before Holiday stole the ball from him with 3.3 seconds remaining. T.J. McConnell finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Myles Turner and Pascal Siakam each had 22 points.

Indiana played without All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton, who sat out with a left hamstring injury, and certainly missed him as Boston closed the game on a 13-2 run. It’s the first loss in seven postseason home games for the Pacers.

The sellout crowd, decked out primarily in gold checkered flag shirts featuring dozens of individual stamps of Indiana’s state outline as part of the Indianapolis 500 weekend celebration, helped inject energy with Haliburton out.

But the crowd was quieted by Holiday’s big layup, the ensuing free throw and the defensive play of the game. He closed it out by making two free throws with 1.1 seconds to go.

Indiana had a chance to force overtime but Aaron Nesmith’s 3-pointer was off the mark.

It was a wild game, with Indiana taking an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter and again midway through the third. But Boston responded the second time by forcing a flurry of turnovers that it turned into a 13-4 spurt to close to 90-81 after three quarters.

The Celtics were just getting started. Boston opened the fourth quarter on a 9-3 run that cut it to 93-90 on a 3 from Horford with 8:29 to play.

Then, after Indiana rebuilt a 107-99 cushion with 3:05 left, Boston closed the game on the 13-2 run that sealed its fifth consecutive road victory in these playoffs.


WWE’s epic SmackDown and King And Queen showdowns shake up Jeddah

WWE’s epic SmackDown and King And Queen showdowns shake up Jeddah
Updated 26 May 2024
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WWE’s epic SmackDown and King And Queen showdowns shake up Jeddah

WWE’s epic SmackDown and King And Queen showdowns shake up Jeddah

JEDDAH: WWE’s epic SmackDown and King and Queen showdown shook up Jeddah on Saturday night.
WWE star Randy Orton was defeated by Gunther and was crowned King of the Ring. 


Wrestler Nye Jax achieved the title of Queen of the Ring in the women’s category, after defeating Lyra Valkyrie. 
Over 20,000 fans filled up the arena to watch Liv Morgan retain her WWE world champion belt after defeating Becky Lynch. 
In a match for the undisputed WWE championship belt, Cody Rhodes defeated American YouTuber and boxer Logan Paul.


Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League

Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League
Updated 26 May 2024
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Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League

Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League
  • The defending champions had never beaten the French giants, losing in the 2019 and 2022 finals against them, but finally succeeded in Bilbao
  • Securing their third Champions League trophy from five final appearances, Barcelona demonstrated that they are the new powerhouse of the women’s game

BILBAO, Spain: Aitana Bonmati and Alexia Putellas struck to earn Barcelona their third women’s Champions League trophy, securing a 2-0 triumph over record eight-time winners Lyon on Saturday.

The defending champions had never beaten the French giants, losing in the 2019 and 2022 finals against them, but finally succeeded in Bilbao to compete a spectacular quadruple this season in coach Jonatan Giraldez’s last match in charge.

Bonmati pounced after 63 minutes and substitute Putellas finished the job in stoppage time to avenge Barcelona’s prior defeats by Sonia Bompastor’s side.

Securing their third Champions League trophy from five final appearances across the last six seasons, Barcelona demonstrated that they are the new powerhouse of the women’s game.

“(It’s) a dream day, it is difficult to explain with words the feeling I have now. It is a special moment,” said Giraldez.

“It is one of happiest days of my life.”

Barca’s stars had insisted that this time they were capable of beating Lyon, adding experience and mental strength to their undoubted talent, and so it proved at a packed San Mames.

Backed by the vast majority of a 51,000 record crowd at a women’s Champions League final, Bonmati and her side completed one of the few challenges remaining to them.

“It’s the first time we’ve beaten Lyon. I’m proud of the team, and we know that with these fans we have, we can’t fail,” Bonmati told DAZN.

“It’s incredible what we’re living through as a team, I’m so lucky... to see we’re creating that for so many people, the historic amount of fans we’ve brought, it’s the proudest I’ve felt, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Giraldez started Mariona Caldentey in attack and moved Fridolina Rolfo to left-back, dropping Ona Batlle to the bench alongside two-time Ballon d’Or winner Putellas.

Lyon left Ada Hegerberg started on the bench too, with the all-time top scorer in the competition’s history struggling for form after injury.

Lucy Bronze deflected a ball onto her own crossbar and Lyon’s towering captain Wendie Renard hit the outside of the post as Barcelona suffered a couple of early jitters.

After going four goals down by half-time in the 2019 final and three down in 2022, this time the Catalans dug deep to hold it together at the back.

Barca threatened increasingly at the other end. Patri Guijarro, who scored twice in last year’s final against Wolfsburg, broke in for their first big chance after half an hour.

Christiane Endler saved and Selma Bacha cleared the ball off the line after it rebounded back toward goal.

Barca’s Caroline Graham Hansen, in sparkling form this season, gave left-back Bacha a torrid time and had 11-time finalist Renard backpedalling fearfully near the end of the first half, but dragged her shot wide.

Barcelona made their quality count after the hour mark when Bonmati sent them ahead.

The Ballon d’Or winner had been quiet but arrived to collect Caldentey’s clever pass and burst into the area.

Bonmati’s low shot deflected off Vanessa Gilles and flew over the helpless Endler, for her sixth goal of the tournament.

Champions League top goalscorer Kadidiatou Diani curled agonizingly over for Lyon as Bompastor’s side tried to fight back. Hegerberg headed off target as Lyon’s chances ebbed away.

“We have to recognize Barcelona had a great match and deserved to win even though it’s hard to accept it,” said Bompastor, tipped to join Chelsea next season, although she stayed tight-lipped on her future.

“We lacked attacking efficiency, we should have scored a goal.”

Eventually Putellas, on as a late substitute, put on the captain’s armband and settled the game by rifling into the top corner to get Barcelona’s celebrations started early.

“Obviously it’s a dream come true, what we have achieved,” said Putellas after her goal locked in Barcelona’s quadruple.

Bronze who won the competition for the fifth time — including three times with Lyon — praised Putellas.

“She’s the captain of the team, she’s the ‘queen’ of Barcelona for a reason,” said Bronze.

“She’s got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and just sealed the win for us.”
 


Bayer Leverkusen win the German Cup and complete undefeated domestic double

Bayer Leverkusen win the German Cup and complete undefeated domestic double
Updated 26 May 2024
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Bayer Leverkusen win the German Cup and complete undefeated domestic double

Bayer Leverkusen win the German Cup and complete undefeated domestic double
  • Leverkusen won the Bundesliga unbeaten, a historic feat
  • The only blip on the record of Xabi Alonso’s team this season was losing the Europa League final to Atalanta 3-0 on Wednesday in Dublin

BERLIN: Granit Xhaka’s early strike was enough for Bayer Leverkusen to win the German Cup final 1-0 over Kaiserslautern for an unbeaten domestic double on Saturday.

Xhaka fired the ball in under the crossbar from distance in the 16th minute. It proved to be enough against second-division Kaiserslautern despite losing defender Odilon Kossounou to a second yellow card just before the break.

Leverkusen won the Bundesliga unbeaten, a historic feat. The only blip on the record of Xabi Alonso’s team this season was losing the Europa League final to Atalanta 3-0 on Wednesday in Dublin. That ended Leverkusen’s record 51-game unbeaten run across all competitions. It was their only loss in 53 games this season.

“The whole journey, the whole season was wonderful,” the Spanish coach said after doubling Leverkusen’s trophy haul in just one season. “What we did this season is unbelievable.”

Alonso and his players ran to their fans after the whistle on Saturday in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. They had supported the team loudly throughout, though were drowned at times by the even more vociferous Kaiserslautern supporters.

They displayed a spectacular tifo of a red devil grasping the trophy in front of a hellish background of fire and brimstone before the game. Flares sending red smoke into the sky embellished the effect – and gave an inkling of what was to come.

The stadium announcer’s repeated requests to stop the pyrotechnics were met with continued indifference. The second half began to a huge fireworks display from the Leverkusen fans.

Despite the smoke above, there was little fire on the field after a long hard season. Kossounou was booked for stopping Kenny Prince Redondo’s break in the third minute, then issued another yellow for a foul on Boris Tomiak in the 44th.

It didn’t stop the Leverkusen machine from grinding out the win. Jeremie Frimpong should have made it 2-0 in the 75th after going past the goalkeeper.

It’s Leverkusen’s second German Cup title after beating Hertha Berlin’s reserve team in the 1993 final. Leverkusen’s other trophy is the 1988 UEFA Cup.